Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I shot the sheriff
So there we were 2 crazy kids out on the road, French Christine on GPS and General de Gaulle. We were heading to Monaco for a day of pretending to be wealthy oil tycoons interested in purchasing a yacht the size of a small Caribbean island. I took the wheel as we left our home-base of Villefranche, keen to let the General loose on the famous Moyenne Corniche. First mistake.
The sun was warm and bright, the sky crystal clear and reflecting the sapphire colour of the sedate Mediterranean waters below. As we rounded the last curve before our destination, Gary was rendered speechless not only by the speed and agility of my driving, but by the striking Grimaldi Palace and sophisticated Monte Carlo high-rises which seem to soar out of the jagged rocks below and pierce the skies above. The contrast between the previous series of petite French fishing villages with their ancient old towns and salty cobbled streets, and the extravagant modern metropolis clinging to the cliffs was immediate and powerful.
As we drove down into the heart of Monaco, with passing cars whizzing past us on the hairpin bends at F1 speeds, I began to lose all bearings of where exactly we were and precisely where we should find a parking. Remembering a wonderful lunch by the harbour with my family on a previous visit, we decided to head to the yacht bowl and find a public garage there. With all the overhead highways, underground tunnels and one way side streets, and the fact that we had cleverly (in the interests of being authentic) set our GPS to French, Christiane was battling to give us any direction. Other vehicles on the road made it impossible to slow down and look for street signs, which seemed to also be on summer vacation, and so we began to panic as I took the same route out of the principality and then back in again for at least the third time.
It was at this point that I decided some assertive action was necessary. We were fast approaching a small circle and Christiane was motioning for us to take an off-ramp. As I swerved the car to the right, I asked Gary if I was taking the correct road. ‘I don’t think so’ was his harried reply. By this stage it was too late to turn back into the circle, and so I went with the exit. At the exact moment that my brain registered that I had just put us on the course of a very small and rapidly climbing one way road lined with solid yellow lines on either side, I heard the shrill sound of a Policeman’s whistle piercing my ears. Gary, ever cool and turning around just in time to see said cop waving his arms hysterically above his head and running after our car, screamed in nearly as high pitched a voice ‘This is a no entry point, that cop was telling us to stop!’. Already 300 meters up the road and out of earshot of the cop, I gripped the wheel and frantically looked from side to side to see if there was anyway on G-d’s green earth I could pull a U-turn. Access denied.
As the car kept climbing higher and the road showed no sign of sending us a convenient place to turn around, my stomach flipped at the cold hard realization that we were going to be in some trouble for this. The beautiful palm trees lining the path, which incidentally had an amazing view of the harbour and Monte Carlo casino, soon gave way to royal flags and ornate gates and arches. ‘Love, I think we are about to cause an international incident’. Before we knew it the road had turned in a hairpin bend and we were hurtling towards the Royal Palace. Ah. Second Mistake.
As the General peaked over the rise we were faced with an interesting sight – a fleet of shiny police cars lined up next to each other, a bus filled with government official types chatting with their leather briefcases and clipboards in hand, and a number of perturbed looking cops waving us down. Steadying my shaky hands, I slowed the car down as I unrolled my window and immediately went, against my feminist inclination, into my best helpless ‘damsel in distress’ mode. “Try not look like a terrorist” was my only advice to Gary. “Don’t worry dear, it’ll be okay” was the subdued reply. As we pulled level with the policemen I mustered up my most nonchalant tone and began blurting out ‘I’m so sorry, we are so lost, please can you help us Sir’.
“Pull over and turn off your vehicle”.
Okaaaaay, the damsel ain’t gonna fly. Cue waterworks?
I duly obeyed the orders and as I went to lean out my window to chat to the gentlemen in uniform I saw another cop jump out next to Gary’s side.
“You heard the policeman at the bottom of the road tell you to stop. Why did you not listen to him?”. I obviously had ‘bad cop’ as I could overhear Gary’s conversation next to me go more along the lines of "There are a lot of police here, we like to protect people". Funny, not feeling so safe.
My words fell over each other as I began imploring him, with just a little more than a hint of desperation, that I had heard him by the time it was too late, there was no way to turn around, it was a mistake, we didn’t mean to cause any trouble, I’m so sorry etc. etc.
“I need your driver’s license and the papers for the vehicle”. Ah. Third Mistake.
I turned back to Gary who met my gaze with a steely blank look. We were both thinking the same thing. As we motioned to my handbag on the passenger floor and pretended to rummage around a bit, I tried to remain calm. I never go anywhere back home without my driver’s license, and we had gone to the mission and cost of us both getting international drivers licenses (only valid when carried with your domestic license) so that we could both drive around. I blame the hysteria around pickpocketing in Europe for making me so paranoid about carrying my legal documents that I had very cleverly locked both of my licenses, along with Gary’s license, into the hotel safe in Villefranche.
Disobeying a police officer, going into a high security restricted zone unauthorized, driving in a foreign country without a valid domestic or international license.
I was riding dirty.
I handed the policeman Gary’s SA driver’s license and before I could explain myself he began taking down the details. Okie dokie, there’s no need to draw his attention to the immediate problem, let’s just see how this progresses. After a few questions of the type I’d seen on enough “Law and Order” episodes to know I was suspected of something, he asked why the picture on the license was of Gary and not of me and where my license was. Under his very serious glare, and with the other policeman walking around the vehicle inspecting it for anything untoward that we were trying to force into the Palace, my nervousness prevented any smooth talking and I blurted out the ridiculous truth that I did have all the correct documents but in the country next door to this one. No I didn’t have my passport with me (also in the safe) or any credit cards or other forms of identification to prove I was who I said I was (also in the safe).
Needless to say, this was the longest half hour of my life. The questions kept coming, the full extent of my absent-minded travellers stupidity was being uncompromisingly unravelled (why do we seem to lose basic mental capabilities in a foreign country?) and I believe it was only Gary’s sweet-talking to good cop and the fact that we were South African that saved a trip down to the tjoekie. Nay, we even escaped without a fine (although our details were captured and stored in some kind of database. Ask no questions).
“Do you know Durban?” he chirped. You better believe we worked that Oyster Box wedding!
“Are you on the way to visit Charlene?” As I saw that look dawn on Gary’s face, the one that had persuaded a Tunisian bouncer to give us free entry into the Nice Jazz Festival to see Seal performing live and which meant he was about to ask if an audience was at all possible, I got us the hell out of dodge.
We eventually found a parking, ironically enough directly opposite the police headquarters, and we had a wonderful day roaming the streets of Monte Carlo. Although I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone was looking at us like I we were criminals, and we were very very careful not to jay-walk …